Was Putin Targeted for Mid-Air Assassination?

Exclusive: Official Washington’s conventional wisdom on the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down blames Russian President Putin, but some U.S. intelligence analysts think Putin, whose plane was flying nearby, may have been the target of Ukrainian hardliners who hit the wrong plane, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry, Consortiumnews.com

U.S. intelligence analysts are weighing the possibility that the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a botched attempt by extremists in the Ukrainian government to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin whose aircraft was returning from South America the same day, according to a source briefed on the U.S. investigation.

If true, the direction of the investigation into the July 17 crash has veered dramatically from initial U.S. government allegations that eastern Ukrainian rebels, using a Russian-supplied anti-aircraft battery, were responsible for bringing down the plane killing 298 people onboard.

The Obama administration used those claims to whip up an anti-Russian hysteria that prompted European countries to ratchet up economic sanctions against Moscow, starting what now looks like an incipient trade war.

A side-by-side comparison of the Russian presidential jetliner and the Malaysia Airlines plane.

But the U.S. analysts dismissed those original suspicions because they could find no evidence that such a missile battery had been supplied by the Russians or was in the possession of the rebels, prompting a shift in thinking toward a scenario in which Ukrainian hardliners working with elements of the air force may have tried to ambush Putin’s plane but instead hit the Malaysian airliner, said the source speaking on condition of anonymity.

Putin flies in a plane with similar red, white and blue markings as the Malaysian airliner and was known to be on his way home after a six-day visit to South America. But his plane took a different route and landed safely in Moscow.

After the crash, as U.S. intelligence analysts pored over phone intercepts and other intelligence data, they began to suspect that the motive for the shoot-down was the desire among some Ukrainian extremists to eliminate Putin whom they had been privately vowing to kill – words initially viewed as empty bluster but which were looked at differently in hindsight – the source said.

If some Ukrainian authorities were hoping to ambush Putin’s plane, they also would have had only a matter of minutes to detect the aircraft’s presence and make a decision to fire, so it could be plausible that the attackers made a hasty decision to hit Putin’s plane before they realized that they had made a tragic mistake.

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